Today's readings are a rather odd selection...
Still Psalm 51, but now joined by Habbakuk and a wrathful God smiting rivers and mountains trmapling nations, and the tender story of Jesus' being anointed at Bethany from John. Very odd.
Scripture can be puzzling, and all too often we skip past the verses or passages that prove enigmatic. So today I want to play, be it ever so briefly with something the John passage...
Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.
You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.
John 12:7 -8 NRSV
You will always have the poor with you... is this so? There will always be people who have too little means to provide for themselves? That, no matter how many handouts, how many schemes, how much charitable giving and how much aid work, some people will always have too little, will always be dependent? Is it really the case that we can never overcome poverty? Is the chant of 'make poverty history' doomed to failure?
We tend to read this passage, and probably correctly, as Jesus saying, this is my moment, and in pouring out the perfume Mary (or any other unnamed woman in similar stories) is acknowledging that. The opportunities to give to the poor will still be there, but this opportunity is a one off. So is Jesus maybe speaking somewhat ironically? The poor will always be with you - you're never ging to really tackle poverty, this is just talk arising from missing the point. How holy it sounds to say 'the money could have been given to the poor" but you have no more intention of doing that than flying to the moon (or whatever a first century equivalent expression might have been). Rather than an ontological inevitability, poverty is inevitable because of self-centredness. That feels preferable, I think, and gives our charitable giving and aid-work at least some sense of hope.
The poor will always be with yoy. Why? Because individually and collectively you will never care enough to make poverty history. Jesus words do not give us permission to give up and say, well that's just the way it is; instead they challenge us to examine our own lives and see the impact we have on others, especially 'the poor' that nebulous part of humanity of which we do not see ourselves as part. Lots more I could play around with using the Matthean and Lukan variants of the beatitudes, but I'll leave it there for now; it is Saturday after all.
The poor will always be with you
Who are 'the poor' Lord?
How do we measure poverty?
And is this just one more trap
Into which we fall
In our attmepts at self-justification?
How do we find the balance, Lord,
Between giving to the poor
And spotting the moments
When something else
Is more important -
Can such a judgement ever be made?
If not ontological inevitability
But product of human sin and finitude
Then show me, Lord
How I can both give to the pour
And lavish my devotion on you.